(Courtesy of Ed Senter, Flickr)

Crowdsourcing shows what power the people have when they come together via social media. Just as democracy allows the crowd to select candidates for public office by a majority of votes, so too does crowdsourcing provide means to the public to achieve results, whether its designing T-shirts (via Threadless), mapping disaster (see Ushahida), alerting your city to immediate needs (as in SeeClickFix), or anything else.

Once, critics informed us of what was worth consuming from Hollywood. But just as YouTube shows us that we can make our own stuff to watch, RottenTomatoes crowdsources tastemaking. Now, the crowd can itself assert what’s worth watching. Similarly, Yelp! flourishes beside restaurant reviews in newspapers. Amazon reviews sway the market like review magazines do.

Crowdsourcing can even solve crimes. A woman who stole from a Brainerd bar was identified after the bar’s surveillance video appeared on YouTube. Sadly, the “wisdom of the crowd” is not always wise. Minsun, Michael, and William showed the folly of the crowd when Reddit users hunted the Boston Marathon Bomber. This reminds me of a newspaper column I read years ago while on vacation. A man was accused of rape after a rape victim spotted his picture on Facebook. She then spread his photo across North America with the warning, “RAPIST”.  Does social media facilitate posse comitatus?

Just as democracy empowers its people for political power, crowdsourcing enables economic power. Large tasks can be smashed into lots of small ones and disbursed to lots of people, as our class discussed with Crowdflower and Mechanical Turk. The crowd can be its own economic force. Etsy allows us to be a free association of producers. Pre-Internet days had fund drives, telethons, and the March of Dimes curing polio. In the social media era, Kickstarter (just to name one site) has hundreds of projects by ordinary people seeking other ordinary people to work together to collectively invest in projects.

Social media hasn’t created a socialist uptopia yet. Only for early adopters has the means of production moved from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat? In fact, could social media be used to maintain the masses as a tool of the upperclass? Is Mechanical Turk a sweatshop? I haven’t found a case where exercise of social media actively exploits underprivileged people. It’s clear that few still have money and power, but some of them use social media for philanthropy. The visit from Kari Ruth from Minnesota Philanthropy Partners was a good example. Since social media is still very new and widespread crowdfunding is even newer, I look forward to see what new shapes and dynamics form in the crowd.